THA tidbits: Middle-schoolers bond on retreat

Many schools have eliminated informal programs, leaving only classes characterized by high student/teacher ratios, rote memorization and drill exercises. But in designing programs at Tucson Hebrew Academy, the social and high-energy needs of young teens have not been tossed out, says Arthur Yavelberg, THA interim head of school.

Take the THA annual beginning-of-school retreat held at the Sahuaro Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona Whispering Pines camp on Mt. Lemmon Aug. 19-20. Seventy-three fifth through eighth graders, including 10 new students, participated in the retreat with the entire middle school faculty, says Ronnie Stern Sebold, director of admissions. Fifth graders returned home the evening of Aug. 19, while sixth through eighth graders spent the night at the camp. “It was a great bonding experience for students and faculty,” she says,” a chance to establish trust.”

To foster team work, students developed group cheers and ran silly relay races, says Yavelberg.

“On the hike we took, we ended up on a ledge with the view of the whole area. It was incredibly peaceful,” says Daniel Kahn, middle school writing coordinator and history teacher. But it was the journey that he most recalls: “Everybody had different hiking skills. Some had never hiked before. Students were helping each other over rocky terrain” to reach the summit.

Students who had arrived there first “cheered each other on, gave each other high fives,” says Kahn, adding that this camaraderie “was just what we were hoping for.”

Adina Karp, an 8th grader, reflected on a set of moral quandary scenarios that Rabbi Billy offered for discussion: “They really made you think out of the box,” she says.

In addition to exercising creative thinking skills, says Yavelberg, “the relationships that develop [from the retreat] will help minimize the kinds of teasing and bullying behaviors that plague just about every middle school. The faculty will follow up on the themes of mutual support and respect throughout the year.”